Here, Aidan Severs explains his teaching methods and thought processes as he teaches students the topic of Iterative Design in Technology. The National Curriculum says ‘Through a variety of creative and practical activities, pupils should be taught the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to engage in an iterative process of designing and making.’ What is the iterative design process? ‘Iteration’ means the repetition of a process and ‘iterative’ means involving iteration. The iterative design process refers to a sequence of actions that are repeated in the course of designing something. At my school I have broken the iterative design process down into the following process, with the end part becoming cyclical:
Each of the elements of the process can be explained simply:
Fact-Finding PhaseProblemIdentify a problem that needs to be solved and who the problem affects
NeedsGather information about needs, wants and values from those who the problem affects
InvestigateInvestigate existing products and analyse them
CriteriaSet design criteria based on the above
Design PhaseDesignDesign product, communicating ideas in a range of ways;
PlanPlans how to make the product, including materials needed and steps to take during making
Iterative PhaseModelMake prototype of the product; create a first iteration/draftThis part of the process should be cyclical until analysis shows the product meets the design criteria
TestPlan (before making) and carry out suitable tests for the product, referring to the design criteria
AnalyseEvaluate and receive critique, referring to the design criteria, and against the following: Is it fit for purpose?Is it innovative?Is it functional?Is it appealing?Does it meet the needs of a group/individual?
RefineMake changes to the product, making the next iteration/draft of the design
Is it that simple? No. As we all know, the primary timetable is a squeeze and Design Technology is often one of the subjects that gets squeezed into one of days or weeks if the children are lucky. Additionally, it is a subject that many teachers feel less confident in planning and teaching. Looking at the above process can feel pretty daunting, especially if you know you’ve only got 1 hour per week in a couple of half terms to actually do it. Can teachers and children really be expected to complete that whole process in every unit of DT work? A process over time The answer to the above question is that we don’t have to complete the whole process every time we teach a DT unit. We can introduce new aspects of the design process over time, gradually building children’s repertoire of design skills. For example, younger children might not identify a problem. Instead, teacher may present them with a problem that the children can solve in their own designs. Or, teachers may provide some simple analysis of a variety of existing products, making explicit strengths and weaknesses so that children can begin to plan their own product with those pros and cons in mind. The key to working towards having children complete the whole design process (perhaps in upper key stage 2) is for teachers to fill in the gaps, providing children with resources and input that allow them to focus only on particular parts of the sequence. Which parts when? Being deliberate and mapping out when children will first encounter the various aspects of the iterative design process will ensure that there is consistency and progression across the DT curriculum. For example, at my school, children in the Early Years work within just three of the areas: Problem, Design and Model. In Nursery, whilst making things, children will use simple language and vocabulary to talk about what they want to do and what they have done. They will continue to do this in Reception, with a focus on creating with increasing purpose whilst talking about what they are doing. In Reception, teachers will guide children’s analysis of their own modelling, leading them to complete a ‘2 stars and a wish’ evaluation of what they have made. In Year 1 this will continue with children talking about the choices they have made and how they have edited their ways of working. Then in Year 1, whilst still working on the above, children will begin to explore the Test and Refine phases of the process by making decisions, changing and adapting their methods whilst making things. During this time, teachers will provide the necessary information to cover the other parts of the design process, for example by telling the children what a user might need and showing them other similar products that already exist (this could even be a teacher-made model). At this young age, children probably won’t even be making something for a user other than themselves, and their making processes might involve construction toys and junk modelling. Where this is the case it may not even be necessary for teachers to fill in the gaps of the design process. Further up the school, children could get to the point where, at an age-appropriate level, they are completing most of the iterative design process, but aren’t necessarily always learning new parts, instead revisiting ways of working from previous year groups. For example, Year 3 could work on the following:
Fact-Finding PhaseProblem (P)Uses simple language and vocabulary to talk about what they want to do (introduced in nursery)
Needs (N)Considers the purpose and appeal to the user when designing (introduced in Year 2)
Investigate (I)
Criteria (C)
Design PhaseDesign (D)Generates, develops, models and communicates their ideas through discussion, annotated sketches and prototypes (new to Year 3) Creates drawings which identify all necessary dimensions and works from these drawings (new to Year 3)
Plan (Pl)Develops written step by step plans (new to Year 3)
Iterative PhaseModel (M)Whilst making, children can decide, change and adapt methods used to be successful (introduced in Year 1)
Test (T)Whilst making, children can decide, change and adapt methods used to be successful (introduced in Year 1)
Analyse (A)Evaluate their ideas and products against design criteria and creates another draft/iteration (new to Year 3)
Refine (R)Evaluate their ideas and products against design criteria and creates another draft/iteration (new to Year 3)
In this way, as can be seen in the table, DT projects in Year 3 will involve some new skills learning in the Design, Analyse and Refine phases whereas children will simply be revisiting and practising other parts of the process and having teacher-provided resources in lieu of yet other parts of the process (Investigate and Criteria in this instance). In doing this, the time allotted to the teaching of DT can be more focused and deliberate and the iterative design process can be taught over time so that by Year 6 children are following the whole process and are beginning to complete some parts of it with a degree of independence. In reducing the amount of new content that is taught regarding the design process, there will still be ample time to teach the more specific skills, for example how to cut wood at an angle, how to join two pieces of fabric or how to make a bread dough. Whose responsibility is all of this? As what I have outlined is a whole school approach, it is clear that the responsibility to be strategic about the teaching of the iterative design process over time lies with whoever is in charge of leading Design Technology. However, there are implications for teachers working in schools where no such whole-school strategy exists. For example, if you teach three DT units during a year, you could look at splitting up the phases of the process over those three units. If you work closely with the other year group(s) in your phase then perhaps you can coordinate the coverage between you. Even if you don’t have the opportunity as a teacher to do this, it is still important to remember that you don’t have to burden yourself and the children with completion of the whole iterative design process in one DT project. Break it down, decide which parts of it are relevant, necessary and appropriate – use some assessment information here if you have it or can get it – and deliver a unit that allows children to experience at least part of the iterative design process.

Aidan is currently a primary deputy head in an all-through school in Bradford. In January he will be working with teachers and leaders as a consultant, having set up Aidan Severs Consulting. You can book him to work with your school and read his blog articles at

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